“They say that motherhood isn’t for the faint of heart, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think motherhood starts out with a faint heart and grows tough and thick and strong.” – Sarah Cottrell of Housewife Plus
It’s the last week of April. Every day now, daylight stretches a little farther, dawdling past dinner and yawning into bedtime. The trees out front are budding, bright and tiny and hopeful. The weather calls us to come out and play, cold mornings and warm afternoons, hoodies strewn, gathered up, tossed aside again. It’s the end of April, the world is full of spring. And my kids aren’t okay.
I noticed it first in my daughter. For the past few weeks, she’s had nightmares every few days. She’d wander into my room and declare into the dark, “I don’t like the sea spiders Mom.” Then she’d curl up on a throw pillow on my floor and doze off, neither of us ever fully waking. By now she’s given up her bed altogether. She prefers the semi-permanent pallet next to my closet.
There are other signs, too. She cries easily, without knowing why. When she gets tired, she asks to watch her favorite shows from when she was a toddler – characters she hasn’t cared about since she left diapers. And any time I teeter away from our routine – if I’m last in car pool line or spend too long out of her sight – her little eyes well up again. “I thought for sure you were dead.”
My second son mirrors her fear. Last night, while he was with his godmother, he begged for her phone to check on me. She let him call, of course. When I asked him about it, he said, “Well I knew you had a meeting in Boulder, and I thought it might last until dark, and what if you died on the way home?”
Boulder, dusk, not coming home. His fears are completely logical. They feel it, all of them, uncertainty growing with the same sharp expansion as the late afternoon sun.
Because four years ago next week, their dad left for a Sunday afternoon bike ride in Boulder, and never made it home. When he did, he was different. Life was different. Two years later, also in early May, he moved out of our house and into the little apartment they know as Dad’s. When the days get longer and the trees begin to bud, their souls remember. This is the time of year where life as we know it can evaporate like rain.
I don’t share their apprehension. Children and parents share experiences, not perspectives. Instead I feel quiet, introspective. In the past four years, I’ve had an education in grief. In my experience, the grief of death is easier to process than the grief of a brain injury. They are just as abrupt, but in the first, the world unfolds its arms and invites you in. In the second, the world stops returning your calls.
This is the first year I’ve been able to admit to any of this. Truthfully, it’s the the first year our lives have been settled enough, normal enough, to notice an uptick of uneasiness and give it a name. All of the other months are finally calm enough for this one to stand out. That’s a blessing, right? A sign of growth?
I can also now admit when we’re not okay. Until this point, it’s been fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be just fine. When the world stopped picking up, I dug in my heels. I don’t need you anyway. I can handle this. Of course I can. I can lose a spouse without family around and raise four kids and resurrect a career in a skyrocketing economy. We will be fine. Just watch how fine we are all going to be.
I don’t need to do that anymore. I’m cultivating peace in my life, and peace begins with accepting things as they are. My kids are wonderful, beautiful and fully alive and engaged with their worlds and talented and interesting and resilient. But sometimes, they aren’t okay. Four years later, I have somehow carved out a little life for us, petering career, insane economy, and all. Yet I still tear up when I think of just what that bike path cost us. My life is truly, deeply good. But it’s not always fine.
Why am I telling you all of this? Normally I wouldn’t. But when I read the quote up top today, I was stunned by the truth of it. When I used to rock balled-up infants and daydream about our life together, I never imagined it would include reassuring them I wouldn’t die driving home while silently cursing the budding trees. But this is my path. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but all who grieve start out that way, shocked and fractured and terrified of the unknown. Slowly, we inch our way forward, carrying the life we didn’t choose in a kind of resistance training. Four years in, the load is not lighter. Instead, I’m stronger, more sure of myself. I know the lay of the land. And if the daylight insists on stretching forward, if the trees must bloom … this year I know how to rise and meet them.